I often find myself attempting to justify the value of video games to my friends. You see, I hang out in circles of culture snobs who would rather sip tea and read poetry than appreciate the nuances of a good Bioware dungeon crawl. It’s tough defending my passion, especially when the medium’s most lauded works are about as deep and culturally significant as an above-average B-movie. Some games try to transcend their medium while others revel in it. Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 is the latter, and it’s one of those games that make it difficult to prove that video games are more than just kid stuff. It tells no story, tugs no heartstrings and certainly doesn’t help the “No, seriously guys, games can be art!” case. And yet, it is fun, and that’s what separates games from every other creative medium. A game can fall short in every element outside the elusive “Fun Factor” (thanks GamePro!) and still receive accolades.
I hold no nostalgia for Rayman. As far as I can tell, he has no trademark abilities or character traits. His only defining feature is his lack of arms and legs. Rayman is almost as forgettable a mascot as Spyro, Crash, Gex, Jak, Ratchet, and others who have attempted to be the “face” of their respective publishers. That’s OK in this case, though, because this game has little to do with Rayman himself. It’s all about the Rabbids—fluffy, inexplicably cute bunnies in dire need of a shot of Valium. They have ten times the personality of our limbless hero and bring psychotic hilarity to their assault on Earth. It’s nice to see a genuine sense of humor in a video game. I’d love to see a Wallace and Gromit-style claymation featuring these weirdos.
Each game requires simplistic actions using the Wiimote. You’ll twirl, rotate, swing, and point your way through a lot of these “60 seconds or less” mini-games. The games themselves have a bit more meat to them than the Wii’s other successful mini-game franchise, WarioWare. That’s a good thing, and it takes a lot of the unnecessary frustration and helpless screams of “I don’t know what to do!” out of the experience. These games are longer and require more innovative uses of the Wii Remote. However, they’re still mini-games, which means they are only fun to play a few times. The Guitar Hero-style rhythm game in which you swing the Nunchuk and Wiimote to the beat of “Satisfaction”, “Smoke on the Water” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is particularly entertaining, if underdeveloped.
Even when the mini-games are at their most tedious, the game’s sense of humor shines through. The most simplistic games are often coupled with absurdist parodies of pop culture. To facilitate their invasion of Earth, the Rabbids try to fit in, aping the Crash Test Dummies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Carmen Miranda and more. As much as the oddball gags add to the experience, their value wears thin on repeated viewings.
Who needs Rock Band, anyway?
The mini-games are broken up by several on-rails shooting sequences that are an absolute riot. Armed with a plunger-launching pistol, the player is whisked through the cobbled streets of Paris, taking down these cuddly, crazed minions of Satan. The environments are all live video sequences, presumably shot by someone running around Paris with a video camera. Then, 3D characters are inserted into the video footage. It’s actually a pretty neat effect, and it makes me wonder why this isn’t done more often. The animators have done a fantastic job syncing the Rabbids and the real-life landscape—it’s more immersive than you’d think.
This is, actually, one of the best mini-game collections to be released thus far. It’s quirky and varied enough to hold the player’s attention while providing enough meat to maintain that attention for at least one sitting. The problem is, that’s all you’ll need. This is a renter through and through. There’s enough of a game here to keep you busy for a night or two of frantic multiplayer action, and as pure bubble gum, you’d be hard pressed to find a game that provides this much fun for three hours and no more. Unless you have a fetish for dressing up rabbits in costume, you won’t be missing out on much if you forgo the game’s paltry unlockables. Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 really shines in the multiplayer mode, as is to be expected with this sort of game.
The rabbids also mimic humankind’s most annoying traits.
It will be interesting to see how the mini-game genre evolves over time. The current distribution model that publishers use does not work well with mini-game collections. I’d like to see publishers using these mini-games as incentives, rather than as stand-alone products. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could unlock these games for achieving certain outcomes in other Rayman titles? These sorts of games could be given out as Happy Meal toys or sold for under $5, a la Burger King’s recent Xbox 360 Promo. As it is, these fun diversions are too often trapped in a broken business model. Developers should think of innovative ways to break this system.
I know I’d feel awesome if I were able to earn one of these mini-games for free, as part of another game-playing experience. Paying for these games alone just doesn’t seem right anymore. In a world where free flash games abound, I think I’d rather spend an hour playing Peggle, Desktop Tower Defense, or, heck, even the Helicopter Game.
Although it is true that the Helicopter Game doesn’t have a rabbit singing James Brown.